The Triton


Crew Coach: Small steps can lead to large changes


Crew Coach: by Capt. Rob Gannon

I’ve had a couple of conversations lately about feeling stuck, just folks not knowing where or how to start making big changes. One chat was with a person in the yachting industry and another was with a client I’m coaching outside of yachting.

When a theme presents itself from multiple sources, I usually consider writing about it because I’m pretty sure there are others out there who can relate.

Probably the most common issue I’m contacted about from the yachting world revolves around the idea of “should I stay or should I go”, that wondering about what to do next and trying to make sure it’s the right move. This can be a difficult, even agonizing period marked by fears, doubt and frustration. It can be hard for some to handle and understand alone, and that’s one of the reasons why coaching has really exploded on the scene in the last decade. This is the area I have studied, and I speak with new people all the time with a similar story. So let’s see if I can drill down a little here and break down this feeling of being stuck and shed some light on the process of change, transition and reinvention.

There comes a time in our lives when we can just feel we need to make some changes. These can sometimes be small changes, which are usually pretty easy and straightforward, or bigger life changers that really grab ahold of us and won’t let us go until we pay attention and act.

What I have learned through my research and working with clients is that it’s the process of taking action — this taking of the steps required — where the breaks can be put on. This is often caused by fear, especially fear of the unknown and of making some terrible mistake.

It’s quite an understandable reaction, but fear is never really a good operating system. We all have a self-protecting mechanism in our brains, our fight or flight response, but that was designed for the bigger life-and-death decisions of our early ancestors’ survival. It shouldn’t control our day-to-day decisions.

Some of our fears are connected to our egos that try to resist change and keep us playing small and familiar. Some of our fears come from our past. We’re good at dredging them up and using them as an anchor to make sure we don’t go anywhere.

In his book “Getting Unstuck”, author Timothy Butler explains this idea of working from the past this way: “Psychologists often use the term ‘mental model’ or ‘cognitive map’ to describe the inner roadmap we use, consciously or not, to find our way through each day and to make decisions, big or small. A mental model can be seen as an accumulation of a lifetime’s learning about what works and what doesn’t.

“The problem with any mental model is that it always operates on information from the past. In contrast, true vision is never an arrangement or rearrangement of solutions that have worked in previous circumstances, but springs from the immediacy of today.”

I like that. True vision is forward looking; it can’t be run by the past. Yes, we must live and learn, but the wake cannot steer the boat.

I have heard this very thing from clients about the past steering things. There is a feeling that because a business idea or a relationship didn’t work in the past that kind of situation must be avoided now. But many times this can just fall under the heading of that was then and this is now. We always handle things with the level of understanding we have at the time. We are not who we were 10 or 20 years ago; a lot has gone on. I certainly hope there has been some evolving and growth.

To handle change, we must be forward thinking because that’s the direction we’re going. When we can release some of our conditioned responses and beliefs, we can be surprised by the feelings, the energy we let in.

This is a process, making changes, and sometimes we are not ready. We are just not ready for the process; we can’t find the will to act. This is when the small steps need to be taken so we can start to live what our imaginations are leading us to.

You may have heard the quote from the great ancient teacher Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

So making big changes, like any process, must begin. Sometimes it comes down this quote I love from writer Anais Nin: “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

Enjoy the voyage.


Capt. Rob Gannon is a 30-year licensed captain and certified life and wellness coach ( Comments are welcome at

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